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Sep 29, 2014

Two Hundred Years before the Financial Crisis

Economists are so well noted for their optimism about economic progress that one, Bryan Caplan, faults non-economists for typically suffering from “pessimistic bias.” Alas, while Caplan has the facts on his side on that count, progress in the realm of ideas is much more uncertain.

Consider two eminent economists writing in the 1820s in light of developments in the last six years.

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Aug 11, 2014 / 2 notes
Jul 29, 2014

Gordon Tullock, Student of Society

Gordon Tullock stood transfixed by an anthill outside the Center for Public Choice. When another scholar asked him what he was doing, Tullock replied brusquely: “Research.”

Indeed, it must have been research, because Tullock would go on to publish The Economics of Non-Human Societies shortly thereafter. It was an answer to the problem he saw in the anthill: how do autonomous creatures with highly limited intelligence divide labor among themselves and coordinate without command? Bee queens, for one thing he observed, change their environment by releasing pheromones and laying eggs; the other bees just respond based on their preferences. 

Tullock was relentless in studying all facets of human society, too — both the logic of human action and the rules that emerge unintended from human action.

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Jul 25, 2014 / 1 note

613 Ways to Break the Law

Law is tacit; law is articulable. Law is discovered; law is created. Law is without reason; law is based in reason. Law is uniform; law is heterogeneous. These are antinomies of which both parts are true in different realms of the Jewish tradition.

The 613 mitzvoth, derived from the Torah, purport positively to bond believers with the divine in love and negatively to prevent their bonds from being severed. But to say that they “purport” is to prejudge the issue of whether these laws represent jurists’ deliberate plans to improve the social order or whether they reflect the melding and clashing of litigants with disparate interests.

This is just one of several themes that economics explores time and again. This essay draws attention to these themes as they bear on the history of Jewish law.

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Jul 22, 2014

Economics and Me

[This is the icebreaker speech I gave tonight to the UAB Toastmasters.]

Economics is a way of making sense of life. It’s how I make sense of my life, anyway. Mine, and that of everyone I meet and think about and read about. It’s the story of my life.

I lost my innocence about the world when I discovered the law of unintended consequences, the law of the seen and the unseen, the laws of demand and supply.  

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May 28, 2014

Market-Process Market Skeptics

Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald tantalize and frustrate this reader coming from an Austrian background, in the first chapter of their new book.

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Oct 9, 2013

Nockisms

Selections from Albert Jay Nock, Journals of These Days and Journals of Forgotten Days

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Aug 9, 2013

Lionel Robbins’s Plea To a Protectionist

I do not hope to persuade Mr. Wise to go back to Hume and Bentham. But may I appeal to him as a good internationalist forthwith to return to Karl Marx?

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Jul 6, 2013

Introducing Milton Friedman

Lanny Ebenstein presents a light and refreshing review of perhaps the most influential public intellectual in the latter half of the 20th century, in his book Milton Friedman. Below are some miscellaneous responses that came as I read the book. 

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Jun 21, 2013

The Joy of Reading Marden

Orison Swett Marden wrote some vivid and insightful advice in his aptly named book The Joys of Living. At risk of portraying the book as a collection of adages, and worse, trite adages, here is a sample of some of the more poetic passages, shorn of most context. 

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Jan 31, 2013

Two Scribblers on Social Change

Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers – The Book Forum

Ideas, unless outward circumstances conspire with them, have in general no very rapid or immediate efficacy in human affairs; and the most favorable outward circumstances may pass by, or remain inoperative, for want of ideas suitable to the conjuncture. But when the right circumstances and the right ideas meet, the effect is seldom slow in manifesting itself” — J.S. Mill

On January 17 at the Cato Institute, Edward Lopez and Wayne Leighton presented the argument from their new book that it is when madmen in authority, academic scribblers, and intellectuals recognize circumstances favorable to the ideas that they market, that policy changes, for good or for bad, by evolution or by revolution. While an economist who sees politics without romance at first expects that bad law can only get worse, economists with romance see that when entrepreneurs sell good ideas to the right people at the right time, government is forced to play by better rules.  

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Nov 8, 2012 / 2 notes

The Muddled, Puzzled, Brilliant Mind

What we think of as behavioral disabilities can be seen as part of a cognitive profile of strengths and weaknesses that make individuals  sometimes more, sometimes less well-adapted to the social world than individuals with a “normal” cognitive profile (if such a thing exists at all).

Tyler Cowen made this case for autism, and something Hayek said leads me to think that the case can be made for a certain type of mind that he characterized himself, and others, as having, and to which he attributed his and these others’ contributions to scholarly knowledge: the mind of “the puzzler,” or what he says might equally well be viewed as “the muddler.”

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Oct 31, 2012 / 1 note

The Chocolate Enchilada

Henry didn’t think it was a big deal but Al and Ivan insisted it was. “Who thinks of putting chocolate sauce, peanut-butter-coated sprinkles, Sriracha sauce, and marshmallow sauce on a tortilla and creating a delicious, ‘traditional,’ American-Mexican dessert?” Ivan wanted to know. “Not just anyone.”

"And remember that time Henry was running for class president, and instead of giving a speech he showed off by swallowing the mouthpiece of his tuba at the podium?", Al chimed in. "Not just anyone thinks of doing that."

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Oct 20, 2012

Please Don’t Be Less Productive!

Tim Jackson is wrong. Jackson, professor of sustainable development, wrote an article in the NYT calling for people to be less productive: we can get more of the things in the unproductive sectors, like teaching and healthcare; we can avoid unemployment; and we can feel satisfied doing meaningful work. Unfortunately, Jackson’s logic is pretty bad. Here’s why.

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Aug 22, 2012

The Emergence of Political Central Banking

Can central banks be simultaneously empowered in an effort to control monetary and financial crises and constrained against abusing its powers?

A common answer is that it can be if subjected to constitutional checks and balances: e.g., the gold standard, in various forms, as a device to limit the central bank’s ability to expand the money supply; legislated mandates on the central bank’s goals and policy instruments, such as a mandate to stabilize nominal GDP; legislated restrictions, such as a prohibition on the central bank’s authority to purchase bonds directly from the fiscal authority.

But although we have seen these constitutional constraints in place in numerous times and places, a tamed or tethered* central bank has always been an elusive creature. 

Political economy has pointed sporadically and sometimes persuasively to mechanisms to explain why these constraints fail. These mechanisms attempt to explain the emergence of political, centralized, expansionary central banking.

But these mechanisms do not seem to fully explain why the constraints did not fail at the start, or how political agents succeeded in evading the constraints.

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